Shareware & Freeware
Shareware or Freeware?
People sometimes confuse shareware with freeware. Both are free to download, but the similarities end there.
Shareware “Try Before You Buy”
Shareware is “try before you buy” software.
After the specified trial period (usually 30 days) you are required to either pay for the software or to remove it from your computer.
Beware of Disabled Features
Sometimes features may be disabled during the trial period (e.g. you are unable to print or otherwise assess the program's full features). Because of this you aren't able to fully test the software (therefore it is not true shareware).
If you buy such software, ensure that you have the ability to return the software after purchase if the missing features don't work or don't meet your requirements.
Freeware “Free to Use”
You can install and use freeware software without charge but the author retains ownership.
Some freeware is licensed only for personal use or has other restrictions.
- Be sure you meet the qualifications to use the software.
- Some authors request a postcard or email so they know you're using their program.
- I recommend you retain a copy of the license agreement with the downloaded software to ensure you still meet the requirements if you install it again in the future.
If you're having difficulty with a freeware program, you should be polite in your conversations with the developer. Remember, they are receiving no compensation.
Positive comments on the developer's site along with your recommendations for improvement go a long way in getting the response you desire. They've developed this software either because they needed it for themselves or because it is a passion.
Some older paid software is re-categorized as freeware when the developer is no longer supporting it.
Shareware Compilation Sites
These are some of the main shareware and freeware repositories.
Watch for Misleading Download Links
Watch for misleading download links. Most are advertisements for malware designed to fool you into downloading them instead of what you came to the site to download.
Advertising helps provide the revenue to run these sites, but downloading an unexpected piece of software is not a fair exchange. Such sites are either poorly managed or simply don't care.
Don't Use Sourceforge
Unfortunately, the new owners of Sourceforge have allowed advertisers with fake download links. Major pieces of software like GIMP, VLC, Notepad++ and WINE no longer have legitimate links on this site. I'd NOT recommend using Sourceforge.
Watch for Scareware Tactics
Popups telling you that you're infected or that security problems have been detected are seldom true. They are designed to scare you into installing malware.
To avoid such problems yet respond to actual threats you need to learn how your security software responds to actual dangers. Do this before you're confronted with the need to determine if you're agreeing to install malware or following legitimate steps to protect your computer.
Hint: Legitimate security software will list the actual threat, not tell you there are dozens or hundreds of viruses on your computer.
Avoid Download Managers
Download managers allow you to stop and restart failed downloads.
The download managers incorporated into current browsers work just fine.
Many third-party and proprietary download managers (e.g. CNet's) mask what you were really downloading and have been used to introduce malware. Don't use them.
Watch for Added Programs
Many free programs introduce other “optional” (but pre-checked) software or toolbars.
- When on the download site, watch for and deselect optional software such as McAfee Security Scan Plus on Adobe's Flash Player download page.
- When running the installer, read each installation dialogue box carefully, watching for pre-checked optional software like Google Chrome, toolbars, changes to your default Home page, etc.
- Deselect ALL such options before proceeding to the next step.
- Watch for extra license agreements that give permission to install additional software.
Searching for Shareware
Can't find what you want?
Try a search at StartPage.com (opens a new window) using the following keywords:
- If you know the name of the program or the programmer or the vendor, try that first.
- You might try the function of the software you are looking for (such as “text editor” or “email program”).
- It might help to specify the platform you are intending to run it on (Windows 7, Mac, etc.).
Updated: December 27, 2016